Monday, 11 November 2013
ICJ rules in Cambodia's favour
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) announced this morning that sovereignty over the disputed Preah Vihear Temple, on Cambodia's border with Thailand, should rest with Phnom Penh. Bangkok has been ordered to withdraw “ military or police forces or other guards or keepers” from the promontory of the 900 year-old UNESCO world heritage site, according to the ICJ's President, Judge Peter Tomka. Many hope the decision will see an end to the recent escalation of tensions between the two south east Asian neighbours, which saw Thai aircraft flying low over the territory on Saturday and nationalist groups saying that they would reject any finding of the ICJ.
Cambodia filed its application to the ICJ on 28 April 2011, requesting an interpretation of the Court's 1962 judgement, which ruled in favour of Cambodia, concerning the century-long border dispute over the promontory of the the Preah Vihear Temple in the Dangrek Mountains. In its 2011 application, Cambodia stressed the need for Thailand to withdraw its troops from the area, cease all military activity in the vicinity and refrain from any act that could aggravate the dispute, lest irreparable damage be done to relations between the two parties. Thailand refuted the claims that there was still a dispute and that these special provisions, regarding its military, be implemented.
The dispute had resurfaced in 2007, when Cambodia submitted an application to UNESCO to list the Temple as a World Heritage site. The application was subsequently withdrawn, following complaints from Bangkok, and was resubmitted, but with the area surrounding the Temple removed from potential site status. On 7 July 2008, the site was inscribed onto the World Heritage List with a “revised graphic plan”, excluding the area disputed by Bangkok and Phnom Penh. This decision led to several years of armed exchanges in and around the Khao Phra Viharn National Park, on Cambodia's northern border with Thailand.
The Temple has been the subject of belligerent political posturing by both parties since the late 19th century and has been occupied by both sides at various points during the 20th century. On 15 June 1962, the ICJ awarded possession of the Preah Vihear Temple to Cambodia, citing colonial maps from 1907, which clearly placed the Temple within Cambodian territory. These maps showing this demarcation were knowingly circulated by Thailand at the time, despite findings to the contrary by a bilateral boundary commission three years earlier. The area around the Temple was the only portion of the 803 km boundary that did not follow exactly the watershed line around the Dangrek Mountains, which “in a general way, constitutes the boundary between the two countries in this region”. This angered Thailand, who, nonetheless, reluctantly agreed to the ICJ verdict.